Earlier tonight, on the eve of International Human Rights Day, the United States Senate report on the use of torture by the CIA (PDF) was finally made public.
Compiled by members of the Democratic party on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the report details the scale and range of techniques used during the detention and interrogation of individuals in the custody of the CIA, post-2001. According to the Committee chair, Dianne Feinstein, these techniques amounted to torture. As noted by Channel 4 News this evening, many of the techniques detailed in the report were not previously publicly known.
Where does Ireland feature?
Where is Ireland situated in the context of these latest revelations?
Ireland v The United Kingdom
In 1971, Ireland took a case against the United Kingdom in relation to the treatment of detainees (the so-called “hooded men“) during a period of internment in Northern Ireland. The case reached the European Court of Human Rights, which delivered its ruling on the 18th January 1978.
Among the treatment meted out to the detainees were five techniques, described by the Court as follows:
96. Twelve persons arrested on 9 August 1971 and two persons arrested in October 1971 were singled out and taken to one or more unidentified centres. There, between 11 to 17 August and 11 to 18 October respectively, they were submitted to a form of “interrogation in depth” which involved the combined application of five particular techniques […]:
(a) wall-standing: forcing the detainees to remain for periods of some hours in a “stress position”, described by those who underwent it as being “spread eagled against the wall, with their fingers put high above the head against the wall, the legs spread apart and the feet back, causing them to stand on their toes with the weight of the body mainly on the fingers”;
(b) hooding: putting a black or navy coloured bag over the detainees’ heads and, at least initially, keeping it there all the time except during interrogation;
(c) subjection to noise: pending their interrogations, holding the detainees in a room where there was a continuous loud and hissing noise;
(d) deprivation of sleep: pending their interrogations, depriving the detainees of sleep;
(e) deprivation of food and drink: subjecting the detainees to a reduced diet during their stay at the centre and pending interrogations.
Article 3 of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights states:
Prohibition of torture
No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
This absolute prohibition is replicated in the United Nations Convention Against Torture of 1984.
‘The Torture Files’ and re-opening Ireland v The United Kingdom
In its ruling, the European Court decided that the detainees had been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, but that the treatment did not amount to torture. Despite the absolute, non-derogable prohibition on “torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment,” the US authorities under George W. Bush relied on the Court’s distinction in its attempts to justify the use of the euphemistically-named “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
This summer, however, RTÉ’s Prime Time aired a special investigation entitled ‘The Torture Files‘. The report revealed “new evidence from the British national archives showing the Court in Ireland v United Kingdom was relying on flawed evidence”:
The new archive material showed that the UK, a founding contracting party to the European Convention, had offered up misleading evidence in the case and that contrary to its claims that the treatment meted out to the men was at worst the fault of lower to middle-ranking military and police, the torture methods had been sanctioned from the very top, where “a political decision was taken” to use them at British cabinet level.
The emergence of this new evidence meant that it was open to the Irish government to apply to the European Court of Human Rights to re-visit the case.
On 2nd December the Irish Cabinet met and agreed to pursue the matter to the Court to have the case re-opened.
On the same day as that Cabinet meeting, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan TD, issued the following “personal explanation” in the Dáil to correct the official Oireachtas record:
Arising from new information which has been brought to my attention, I would like to correct the record of the House in respect of an error in responses to four parliamentary questions from Deputy Clare Daly starting on 7 October 2014 and finishing with Question No. 110 on 20 November 2014.
I replied to the questions on the basis of the information provided by Shannon Airport Authority. Shannon Airport Authority has now informed my Department that it has identified an error in its recording of the registration of this aircraft and has provided confirmation of the details of the aircraft in question.
I can confirm to the House that the aircraft identified by Deputy Clare Daly in the four parliamentary questions was in fact granted permission to land at Shannon Airport on 30 September this year. The permission to land was granted subject to the strict conditions which apply to foreign military aircraft, including stipulations that the aircraft must be unarmed, carry no arms, ammunition or explosives and must not engage in intelligence gathering and that the flights in question must not form part of military exercises or operations.
I apologise to the House for this error. The Shannon Airport Authority has apologised to me for this administrative error and has assured me that additional control measures have been put in place to avoid any recurrence.
Tonight, Simon Carswell reports in The Irish Times that Shannon Airport was “crucial” to rendition programme, according to human rights researchers:
The Rendition Project and Reprieve have identified 27 aircraft used by the CIA in its rendition programme which they claim landed more than 200 times at Irish airports on global circuits that ferried al-Qaeda suspects around secret prisons or “black sites” between 2001 and 2006.
All of this prompts the question:
Where does this leave the Irish government which, within the space of a week, has re-opened the case which was used to justify the use of torture facilitated by rendition flights through Irish airports?
“A global network for CIA torture”
Source: The Guardian/Open Society Foundation/United Nations